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9 posts from November 2017

[Review] 'Generation Impact: How Next Gen Donors Are Revolutionizing Giving'

November 21, 2017

A new generation of donors is expected to inherit an estimated $59 trillion dollars by 2061 and to allocate almost half that sum to charitable causes. In addition to this unprecedented transfer of wealth, there are also a growing number of next-generation donors who have earned their own fortunes at a relatively young age and are currently, or will soon be, engaged in philanthropy in a significant way.  

Gen-impact-book-1In Generation Impact: How Next Gen Donors Are Revolutionizing Giving, authors Sharna Goldseker and Michael Moody set out to illuminate the "collective mindset" of this emerging cohort of Gen X and millennial philanthropists, who, as a result of almost unprecedented wealth creation and concentration, are ushering in a "golden age of giving" marked not only by significantly more financial resources available for charitable causes than in the past but by dramatic shifts in the traditional norms of philanthropy. These shifts are the impetus for Goldseker and Moody's book; through interviews and surveys with hundreds of younger philanthropists, as well as first-person accounts from thirteen next-gen donors, they aim to help the social sector understand who these next-generation donors are, how they're giving, and how they're likely to approach change-making efforts in the years to come.  

The authors call these next-gen donors "Generation Impact" because they're hyper-focused on seeing the needle actually move with respect to the various issues they are passionate about. Many want to understand an organization's theory of change; others are eager to go on site visits to see the impact created by their support, while still others want to review hard data that shows the success (or lack thereof) of a program or organization. This focus on results also goes hand-in-hand with a desire to not just fund organizations, but to invest their own time and talent in causes that are important to them. That can take many forms, from volunteering with an organization before becoming engaged as a donor, to connecting with the beneficiaries of a program that they're thinking about funding, to lending their skills and expertise to organizations in addition to (or instead of) writing a check. "Experiencing it with your own hands and eyes is a must," one donor tells Goldseker and Moody.  

Many of these next-gen donors also are beginning their engagement with philanthropy at a relatively young age and will continue giving throughout their lives; as a result, they strive to bring their full selves to their philanthropic endeavors instead of merely viewing charitable giving as an add-on to their professional and personal lives. As one donor puts it: "Philanthropy is not just something that you do; it is very much a part of who you are."  

And while they continue to give through traditional vehicles like family foundations and donor-advised funds at community foundations, next-gen donors increasingly are turning to less traditional vehicles such as crowdfunding platforms and impact investments, are supporting social enterprises and hybrid organizations that blur the lines between for- and nonprofit, and are often focused on working with others to effect change. "They are hungry," write Goldseker and Moody, "for meaningful connections with peers in similar situations of philanthropic affluence so that they can connect personally, to learn and grow together and be more effective in their giving."

Given all that, it's surprising the authors make a point of mentioning the "paucity of other sources of learning in the philanthropic field" for next-gen donors, a lack that leads them, in their words, to seek out their peers for strategic advice. Many infrastructure groups, in fact, including the Jewish Teen Funders Network, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, and the Council on Michigan Foundations, have resources and programs geared to providing next-gen donors with a "roadmap" for their philanthropic journey. Here at Foundation Center, we recently developed YouthGiving.org — a platform designed to connect, inspire, and inform youth grantmaking, enabling younger donors to not only find and connect with peers, but to learn about other next-gen donors' experiences, failures, successes, and collective impact.

More importantly, what do these shifts mean for the social sector? The authors do a great job of taking the themes surfaced by their research and offering practical advice around what those themes are likely to mean for nonprofits, other philanthropists, and next-gen donors themselves. Younger donors may be rethinking the way Americans give, but, as Goldseker and Moody argue, they're also revolutionaries who respect tradition and will continue to support many of the same causes funded by older generations: indeed, next-gen donors "are earnestly and eagerly searching for ways to honor their elders' legacies and adapt their giving to have maximum impact."  

This should be comforting news to nonprofits that worry their donor support will dry up as younger philanthropists become a bigger force in the field. Still, Goldseker and Moody caution that nonprofits hoping to benefit from the intergenerational transfer of wealth will need to adapt and do a better job of showing the impact of their younger donors' gifts. Other key takeaways for nonprofits include the need to focus on developing meaningful relationships with next-gen donors by aligning with their values, providing them with personal experience of the programs they support, and encouraging them to donate their time and professional skills in addition to (or even instead of) financial resources.

Key takeaways for family foundations looking to engage the next generation include the need to ensure that governance structures give real voice to younger family members, to embrace transparency and use generational differences to their advantage, and to provide younger family members with opportunities to connect with, learn from, and collaborate with their peers in philanthropy. The authors also stress that next-gen donors should respect the boundary between being "hands on" and micromanaging or asking for too much from organizations that are looking for help and support. Or, as they put it: "They will need to keep the inherent power divide in mind, to check in with their partners on the other side of the funding table, and, above all, to listen to what people and organizations really need."  

Goldseker and Moody are incredibly optimistic about next-gen donors who are coming into the field and their potential to meaningfully move the needle on many of our most pressing social problems. Indeed, they believe that impact created by next-gen donors will be greater than the impact created by earlier generations of philanthropists — not only because they are likely to have more resources at their disposal, but because they're more entrepreneurial, more focused on concrete results, and more invested in using new tools to produce those results and effect meaningful, lasting change. It's up to nonprofits and other philanthropists, they write, to adapt to and embrace these new attitudes and behaviors. And it's up to next-gen donors to use their significant privilege and resources strategically, while listening respectfully, to maximize their impact.

Erin Nylen-Wysocki is manager of stakeholder engagement at Foundation Center. For more great reviews, visit the Off the Shelf section in PND.

 

Learning From Abroad: Philanthropy’s Role in Spreading Social Innovation

November 20, 2017

Four_idea_lightbulbsDid you know the toothbrush was first invented in China, or that the idea for kindergarten originated in Germany? The United States has benefited from great ideas from other countries for years. As grantmakers — whether a national philanthropy or a local funder — we can learn so much by embracing the notion that good ideas have no borders.

At the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), I direct an effort explicitly tasked with searching the globe for ideas with the potential to improve health and health care in the U.S. And as the foundation continues on its ambitious journey to build a national Culture of Health, my colleagues and I are casting a wide net with our own learning efforts to bring the best ideas and solutions forward.

Finding promising ideas from abroad isn't always easy. It requires time and commitment. Making global ideas accessible and adaptable so that the communities we serve can implement them successfully can be challenging. But I am optimistic. Our efforts to learn from abroad have led us to the work of many organizations and experts who are advancing ideas in areas as diverse as creating a new workforce to support frail elders, building new partnerships to disrupt community violence, and bringing disengaged youth back into the fold.

Our journey also has led us to efforts like ChangeX that are laser-focused on transforming communities with great ideas and social innovations.

Launched in Ireland in 2015, ChangeX International has inspired and supported hundreds of community-led innovations around the world, providing a roadmap for leaders to  drive change in their own neighborhoods. The ChangeX platform finds and packages proven ideas for local adaptation. For instance, Welcome Dinner is a program where residents of a community seek out newly settled refugees and immigrants to share a meal. Because of ChangeX, the idea, which originated in Sweden, has spread quickly throughout Europe and is now helping build social cohesion in communities in the U.S. Men's Shed, an Australian innovation, has become a global movement in ten countries that makes it possible for retired men to come together in dedicated community spaces to find meaning, new skillsets, and friendship. GirlTrek has turned a low-cost, high-impact solution — walking — into a health movement that activates thousands of black women to be change makers.

These are just a few of the many innovations ChangeX is spreading around the world.

With RWJF's support, last year ChangeX launched its first U.S. expansion in Minnesota, and to date more than a hundred local projects are up and running across the state. What's interesting to me is that some of the proven and promising solutions on the ChangeX platform emerged directly from local needs and local values. For example, Sambusa Sunday started in Minneapolis when local Somalis wanted to thank the many residents who supported them during a recent spike in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment. Featuring free chai tea and Somali pastries called sambusas, these public events bring together neighbors of all backgrounds and nationalities. We're also finding that these innovations are easily adapted for use in other communities, provided local leaders are given the right resources and tools to move them forward.

ChangeX, and adapting global ideas to uniquely local circumstances, sometimes feels a bit like gardening: You take a cutting from a healthy, vibrant plant; root it; and transplant it in another locale, where, with proper care, support, and cultivation, it too can flourish.

As we — funders and grantmakers — look for ways to build stronger, more vibrant communities here in the U.S., we should explore what other countries are doing well. Platforms like ChangeX are a great place to start.

I invite you to join me and my colleagues at RWJF on this global learning journey. What spaces are you currently exploring that could be informed by looking outside our borders? What global efforts do you see holding promise for supporting U.S. communities?

Great ideas are out there. Let's work together to find them!

Headshot_karabi_acharyaKarabi Acharya directs the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s strategies for global learning as it identifies best practices in other countries and adapts them to improve the social determinants of health in communities in the United States. 

Weekend Link Roundup (November 18-19, 2017)

November 19, 2017

Say no to sexual harassmentOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Communications/Marketing

"In a world where there is 'an avalanche of crazy things coming out of the [current] administration', communications professionals find themselves having to rethink how they communicate both internally and externally," writes Jason Tomassini, associate director for editorial at Atlantic Media Strategies, on the Communications Network site. At the recent ComNet17 conference, Tomassini and the network invited attendees to participate in a discussion about how they're navigating communications challenges in the current political environment. Here are four key takeaways from that discussion.

Disaster Relief

The Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, the fund created by Houston mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County judge Ed Emmett, has announced a second round of grants totaling $28.9 million to nintey nonprofits. The Houston Chronicle's Mike Morris has the details.

Giving

Although the giving traditions of the Rockefeller family were established almost a hundred and fifty years ago, writes Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisor's Melissa Blackerby, modern philanthropists can still learn from the family's values and example.

Gun Violence

In the HuffPost, Melissa Jeltsen and Sarah Ruiz-Grossman use data collected by Everytown for Gun Safety to argue that most mass shootings in America are related to domestic violence.

Higher Education

The dueling Republican tax bills working their way through Congress have implications for exempt sectors of the economy that could fundamentally change the way they operate. In this Weekend Edition segment, NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Raynard Kington, president of Grinnell College, a small liberal arts college in Iowa with a large endowment, about the Republican proposal to levy an excise tax on endowment income.

Nonprofits

Nonprofit AF blogger Vu Le has re-posted to his own blog his NPQ think piece on the future of the nonprofit sector.

Forbes contributor Christian Johnson, co-founder and CEO of Seed Consulting Group, suggests that nonprofit leaders can learn from cardiologists and the complex information and alert systems they rely on to more effectively run their organizations.

Philanthropy

In his annual president's message, a somber Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, notes the passing of two Rockefeller family members "who profoundly shaped the character and work of th[e] foundation over many decades" and shares some thoughts about the challenges confronting the nation and the global community.

In the Nonprofit Quarterly, Martin Levine suggests there's "a not-so-quiet storm brewing in the structure of philanthropy," as donors of all sizes increasingly turn their back on private foundations and look to new vehicles, such as limited liability corporations and donor-advised funds, that "allow them greater control and less oversight."

Could foundations achieve greater impact if they made grants the way venture capital firms approach their investments, focusing not on organizations per se but on industry disruptors? Gabe Kleinman, head of portfolio services and content/marketing at Obvious VC, considers the implications.

Here on PhilanTopic, Fiduciary Trust's Joel Mittelman and Stacy K. Mullaney explain why, in an extended low-rate environment, a "total return" approach makes sense for foundations and endowment managers.

The Philanthropy Workshop (TPW), which works to "inspire, transform, and catalyze a network of effective philanthropists as a means to a more just, sustainable, and enriching world," is looking to hire a chief executive officer. Learn more about the opportunity here.

Public Policy

In The Hill, Independent Sector president/CEO Dan Cardinali and Council on Foundations president/CEO Vikki Spruill decry House Republicans' targeting of the Johnson Amendment, a 63-year-old measure that prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. Repeal of the provision, write Cardinali and Spruill, would result in billions of dollars of anonymously contributed dollars being funneled through nonprofits for partisan political purposes. And with all that money flowing through new, opaque channels, it would only be

a matter of time until scandal erupts, resulting in congressional hearings, IRS probes and public calls for a crackdown.
Think for a moment what that might look like: The IRS could impose vastly increased reporting requirements on nonprofits, a move that would increase the cost of fundraising and reduce spending on missions.
Religious organizations, for the first time, could be forced to file a Form 990, and all nonprofits could face greater scrutiny of their donor lists. Most ominously of all, Congress would feel pressured to eliminate the charitable deduction entirely to prevent government-subsidized funding of political campaigns....

Lucy Bernholz shares her own take on the so-called Brady amendment in a post on her Philanthropy 2173 blog.

In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson details the many bad arguments for getting rid of the estate tax. And here's the left-leaning Center for American Progress' dire take on repeal.

Frequent PhilanTopic contributor Mark Rosenman doesn't mince words as he lays out all the ways that Republican tax "reform" will hurt the charitable sector.

And believe it or not, there are a few millionaires and billionaires in the country — actually, more than four hundred — who have come out and just said "no" to the idea of cutting their taxes.

That's it for this week. Got something you'd like to share? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Endowments Look to Total-Return Approach Amid Low Rates

November 16, 2017

Absolute-returnThe extended low-rate environment has had a considerable impact on almost all institutional investors, but perhaps none more so than endowments and foundations, which often struggle with distribution requirements and spending needs in excess of realized returns. A recent NACUBO-Commonfund benchmarking study found that endowments produced average returns of -1.9 percent in 2016. And while performance has improved significantly in 2017, in an era in which interest rates are near historic lows and yield remains difficult to find, endowments and foundations are rethinking whether they should adopt a "total return" approach as part of their underlying investment strategies.

A survey and accompanying white paper published earlier this year by Fiduciary Trust Company and Associated Grant Makers demonstrated the extent to which the low-rate environment is affecting nonprofits across nearly all traditional activities — from spending and grantmaking to fundraising and board governance. Among the fundraising institutions polled, for instance, an overwhelming majority (over 80 percent) have stepped up their fundraising efforts, while more than two out of every five grantmaking institutions have reduced their grantmaking activities or are weighing such a decision. Moreover, nearly half of the public charities responding to the survey said they had considered reducing or have reduced spending. To be sure, such tactics can help bridge the gap during periods in which returns suffer, but at what expense to the charitable or grantmaking missions of the organizations in question? And then there's the fact that a significant number of respondents, roughly one in five, have broadened their investment universe to allow for riskier investments in pursuit of higher returns, in many cases (we assume) without proper regard for downside risks.

Thanks in part to the pressures that accompany a low-rate environment, the value of a "total return" approach has again come to the fore. According to the same survey, half of the more than two hundred and thirty respondents indicated that their organizations have either already adopted a total-return approach or are considering such a move. Total-return strategies can come with short-term risks, but broadly diversified portfolios generally offer reduced volatility from year to year and, as a result, provide institutional investors with more control, consistency, and visibility as it relates to their distributions and related planning.

For those who may not be familiar with the term, "total return" refers to the value that amasses in a portfolio over a given period of time and combines interest and dividend income with capital appreciation from both realized and unrealized gains. In the past, by statute or by design, many organizations may have employed investment programs that limited distributions to income from bond interest or equity dividends.

Interest and awareness in a "total return" approach, however, is by no means a novel idea; it actually goes back to the late 1960s when former Ford Foundation president McGeorge Bundy commissioned two studies that analyzed the lackluster investment performance of university endowments common at the time. The second of the two studies, "Managing Educational Endowments," by Robert R. Barker, attributed the poor returns to an overemphasis on avoiding losses and maximizing current income.

Barker's research was groundbreaking in that it made a case for nonprofits to apply Modern Portfolio Theory, which itself was introduced by Harry Markowitz in the 1950s, to the management of their endowments. But the Barker study also set the stage for changes to the fiduciary standard, allowing boards to assess the "prudence" of a given investment strategy at the portfolio level versus analyzing each commitment independently and apart from other investments. Recognizing the extent to which loss aversion was affecting performance, the research also advocated for the delegation of investment management to qualified professionals who are best able to optimize performance while managing risk.

In addition to the improved consistency and better command over distributions, a total-return approach also can lead to superior investment management decision-making and, potentially, higher overall distributions. By re-assessing asset allocations and rebalancing exposures as valuations and market conditions change, a total-return approach also imposes far more discipline than a mere focus on income generation at the expense of other risks or investment opportunities.

While it may seem counterintuitive, organizations that eschew a total-return philosophy may be placing undue hardship on their endowments and grant recipients. It should be noted that statutes such as UPMIFA (Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act) or private foundation rules under the Internal Revenue Code may allow boards of tax-exempt organizations to consider the total return of an investment portfolio and also the circumstances dictating the prudence of diversification.

Mittelman_mullaney_for_philantopicDespite President Trump's nomination of a new Federal Reserve chair and investor expectations about future rate hikes, it is likely that the absolute level of rates will remain depressed for some time. What this means for nonprofits is that the same challenges that have complicated income-focused investment strategies over the past two years will likely remain in place until new catalysts emerge or as monetary policy changes. Against this backdrop, for many nonprofit investors there is not only more that can be done but more that should be done to meet the fiduciary duties that govern most trustee and board positions. A total-return approach isn’t just a solution for periods marked by low rates; it’s an antidote which can help ensure that portfolios retain a prudent level of diversification aimed at both augmenting long-term performance and managing risk.

Joel Mittelman is a vice president and head of endowments and foundations at Fiduciary Trust. Stacy K. Mullaney is chief fiduciary officer at Fiduciary Trust.

The Worst Tax Reform That Money Can Buy

November 15, 2017

Tax-reformCharities and foundations are lucky. Often their self-interest and the public interest seem to be in conflict. But not this month, thanks to Congressional Republican efforts to "reform" the U.S. tax system.

In simple terms, the Republican plan is an effort to transfer more than $1.5 trillion from public purposes, government, and charities in order to further enrich already fantastically wealthy individuals and corporations. Under both the House and Senate plans, far less of the proposed cuts would benefit middle-class folks — many of whom would actually end up paying more in taxes. And even if Republican leaders' hopes to finance their scheme through cuts to Medicare and Medicaid fail, many of the other so-called reforms would profoundly hamstring our nation's ability to address critical social needs.

It's the same old class warfare that Republicans have promoted since the days of Ronald Reagan, and it must be opposed for the sake of both the nonprofit sector and the people and causes who rely and depend on the sector.

As detailed elsewhere, standard deduction provisions alone would cost charities more than $13 billion in donations each year. Changes in the estate tax, which the House proposes to eliminate and the Senate would reform by doubling the exempt amount, would also have a devastating impact. When the tax was suspended for a year in 2010, bequests dropped by over a third; full repeal would cost the Treasury $270 billion over a decade that might otherwise fund critical needs across America. Yet the Republican proposals allow the top one-fifth of one-percent, the very wealthiest 00.2 percent of Americans, to keep that money, even though most of it has never been and never would be taxed.

Simply put, the various tax policies being pushed in both the House and Senate would significantly cut charitable donations and otherwise harm nonprofits in order to finance giveaways to Americans who already hold a disproportionate share of the nation's wealth.

Why are Republicans willing to cause so much harm to charities and ordinary people? Because, as has been candidly admitted by Republican politicians themselves, their donors and wealthy CEOs (often one and the same) expect it and have even threatened them if they fail to deliver. And, as a harbinger of worse things to come, some Republican-aligned groups are spending upwards of $40 billion to sell middle-class voters on the plan.

In a further move to serve their own narrow interests, House Republicans are angling to repeal the Johnson Amendment and allow 501(c)(3) organizations to engage in partisan political activity. If they succeed and donors start to use tax-exempt charities to fuel their own partisan agendas, the Treasury stands to lose more than $2 billion in tax receipts, and nonprofit organizations of all persuasions are likely to become embroiled in terribly divisive partisan debates over policy. They would also be much more susceptible to coercion by their donors — and by government contract and grant officials — to adopt partisan positions, or face the consequences.

Other provisions hidden in the House or Senate bills — and, remember, provisions in either bill can become law through the work of the final conference committee — do harm to certain charities and those they serve. One proposal would tax the endowment earnings of large universities. As it stands currently, this would cost those institutions a cool $3 billion a year, money that might otherwise be used for student financial aid. It would also open the door to such policies being extended to other charitable entities and funding streams.

Related proposals would hurt university students more broadly and directly. The deduction for student loan interest would disappear, with potentially devastating consequences for roughly twelve million Americans. Student tuition waivers also would be taxed. In total, another $65 billion would be taken from students to finance the Republicans' money grab — even as the same politicians push regressive policies that will exacerbate inequality and make it harder for the working class to realize the American dream.

Under another Republican "reform," universities, hospitals and other charities would no longer be able to finance new facilities and capital improvements through tax-free bonds issued by state and local governments, raising the cost of education and health care by close to $40 billion. School teachers' deduction for the cost of the supplies they buy (only covering the initial $250 they spend) would disappear. And the close to nine million Americans who claim a medical expense deduction (many of them served by nonprofits) are more likely to become even sicker as they watch the transfer of more than $180 billion in tax benefits to the wealthy and large corporations. Seniors would be hurt the most.

There's more. For the first time ever, charities would find certain of their practices subject to fiscal disincentives. Compensation of over $1 million paid to any staffer would be subject to an excise tax.

Now, while some might favor discouraging excessive compensation packages in the charitable sector (I among them), others (I among them) argue that: first, without competitive salaries, large nonprofit hospital systems and similar entities will be unable to today attract the qualified people they need to run those operations; second, that government ought not to impose such disincentives on nonprofits without commensurate action on corporations that have driven up executive compensation to egregious multiples of the average worker’s wage; and third, that it is a terrible precedent for politicians to decide which charitable practices they like or don't like and to use tax policy to enforce their preferences.

Other policy provisions will dramatically impact ordinary Americans. While capping the deduction for mortgage interest is likely to hurt those with more expensive homes, House Republicans don't seem to mind the fact that tax-payers in cities with the highest cost of living — places that, not coincidentally, tend to vote Democratic — will be penalized the most. So, too, the Senate's plan to eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes — a provision that would disproportionately affect those living in "blue" localities.

As "ambitious" as the House, Senate, and White House "reform" packages may be, they clearly work to the detriment of charities and the public. Even as Republicans try to sell their efforts as a boon for the middle class, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has had to admit that the upshot for 25 percent of those in such income brackets is a higher tax bill. Indeed, it is wealthy people like Donald Trump who already pay far less than their fair share of taxes who will benefit the most.

No matter which of these specific proposals survive initial votes in the House and Senate, no matter which of the president's regressive ideas are adopted, and no matter what kind of bill emerges from the conference committee for a final vote, the "reforms" gleefully touted by Republicans will be ruinous for the nation. Charities and organized philanthropy need to stand up and speak out now — for themselves and for the public and the planet — before it's too late.

Headshot_mark_rosenmanMark Rosenman is a professor emeritus at the Union Institute & University. To read more of Rosenman's commentary, click here.

Philanthropy and Conflict Transformation

November 13, 2017

Conflict_transformationCarnage on the streets of New York, London, and Paris has taught us that anyone can be affected by violent conflict. In an interconnected world, borders mean little and war spreads easily. Such attacks, where anyone can become a victim, have their roots in deeper social problems.

Violent conflict brings death, lost homes, displaced persons, and spoiled lives. It costs money, too. The Global Peace Index estimates the 2017 cost of violence across the world at $14.3 trillion (or 12.6 percent of global GDP).

The response of philanthropy to these problems has historically been modest. According to the Peace and Security Funding Index, 290 U.S. foundations gave $357 million in 2014 (the latest date for which figures are available). The mismatch between the scale of the problem and the size of resources stimulated discussion at a workshop organized by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), Foundation Center, and Donors and Foundations Networks in Europe (DAFNE) on October 30. Some forty-five funders, peace organizations, NGOs, and think tanks concluded that there was a need to learn from each other and to join up the field.

Jean Marc Rickli from GCSP gave a lightning tour of recent conflicts across the world. A few high-intensity armed conflicts are causing large numbers of civilian casualties. Elsewhere, progress promoting peace and justice, together with effective, accountable and inclusive institutions, remains uneven across and within regions. Over the past thirty years, the face of violent conflict has changed markedly. Rather than standoffs between states, conflict is more likely to be based on asymmetrical power relations. Conflicts have become more scattered over a wider area and are driven by nationalism or differences in ideology.

Celia McKeon, from Rethinking Security, identified the drivers of modern conflict: social and political marginalization, inequality, climate change, competition for resources, racism, nationalism, hyper-masculinity, and growing militarization. In studying strategies for national security, she found a reliance on elite-level dialogue, a focus on short-term matters, and unrealistic time frames for post-conflict recovery. Much less attention is paid to preventive work and root causes and support for actors on the ground. Alex Bryden from the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of the Armed Forces (DCAF) echoed these comments, suggesting that security policy was often muddled in suggesting, for example, that more private security is a good thing. The failure to address these factors demonstrates the weakness of global governance and the widespread failure of institutional solutions to peacebuilding.

In the light of the complexity of the issues and the risks entailed, it is perhaps not surprising that many philanthropies find the issue of conflict difficult to engage with. However, as Larry McGill from  Foundation Center observed, the experience of the Peace and Security Funders Group demonstrates that there is much scope for constructive engagement and described a wealth of different interventions in twenty-three different issue areas — from building coalitions to training journalists. Avila Kilmurray, drawing on her work with the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland and Foundations for Peace, and citing her recent study for Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace (PSJP), pointed out that grantmaking in divided societies is different because efforts can be undermined by a bomb going off at any time. Both small and large grants are important, though a small unrestricted grant that allows freedom to spend money in a variety of ways is often better than large grants tied to restricted programmatic goals. There is a key role in research and development for foundations — trying out things that might work and sticking with issues over the long haul. A key task is working with communities that are affected by violence and engaging them in the solutions.

In afternoon workshops, participants explored the challenges facing NGOs and funders working in conflict prevention and resolution. They highlighted the need for a thorough understanding of the context and the causes of the conflict; clarity of purpose and the building of trust between donors and project implementers underpinned by alignment of mission; a preparedness to take risks; and a commitment to a scale and duration appropriate to the conflict and its resolution.

The conclusion of the workshop was that the field needs new energy and thinking. In her summing up, Lauren Bradford from Foundation Center noted that while lots of things are happening in different spaces, the field should be brought together in a way that would yield an ecosystem supportive of the skills, knowledge, and expertise of different actors. A useful vehicle for doing this is SDG 16, whose goal is to "promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels."

There was widespread agreement on the need for a follow-up meeting focused on strengthening connections. A useful place to start this process would be at the annual meeting of the Peace and Security Funders Group due to take place in Minneapolis in May 2018.

Barry Knight bio picBarry Knight oversees the work of the Webb Memorial Trust, supports Foundations for Peace, and works with the Global Fund for Community Foundations, the Arab Reform Initiative, WINGS, and the European Foundation Centre. He is also co-chair of the Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace and has previously advised the Ford Foundation and Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The author or editor of fourteen books on poverty, civil society, community development, and democracy, Knight recently published Rethinking Poverty. What Makes a Good Society?

Spoiler Alert: It’s Not All About Fundraising

November 07, 2017

Spoiler-alertAs a nonprofit leader, you'll be delighted to learn that new research affirms what most of us knew: Americans are generous. In fact, this year’s edition of Giving USA found that charitable giving by individuals in the U.S. was up nearly 4 percent in 2016, hitting an all-time high.

But as The Chronicle of Philanthropy notes in How America Gives, a recently released analysis of American giving patterns, these gifts are coming from fewer people. In 2015, the Chronicle notes,

only 24 percent of taxpayers reported a charitable gift....That’s down from 2000 to 2006, years when that figure routinely reached 30 or 31 percent....

While the Chronicle suggests the drop off could be due to a decrease in the number of Americans itemizing deductions on their tax returns, they also point to other possibilities: the lingering after effects of the Great Recession, an increase in the number of struggling middle-class families, more competition for fewer dollars.

And then there's the millennial factor. The generation born between 1980 and 2000 is the largest in American history, and as the Chronicle notes, "it's well known that [millennials] aren't embracing traditional ideas of giving."

It's a trend that's reflected in our own research. Indeed, Phase 2 of our 2017 Millennial Impact Report found that the millennial generation doesn't rank giving — or volunteering — as all that meaningful in terms of effecting change. In the study, survey respondents were asked to rank their typical cause/social issue-related behaviors in order of how influential they believed each to be. Out of ten actions, volunteering for a cause or organization ranked sixth while giving ranked eighth — well behind other actions such as signing a petition, attending a march or rally, voting, or taking to social media to share one's views.

In other words, when it comes to creating change, millennials seem to favor what we call activist-type behaviors to more traditional forms of cause engagement (like donating and volunteering). And it isn't just millennials: NPR noted earlier this year that the election of Donald Trump ignited grassroots activism — on both the left and right — at a level "never seen before."

Whether politically motivated or not, a clear trend is emerging: People across the country are looking for more effective ways to bring about the kind of change they'd like to see, and the actions they're taking don't necessarily start with (or sometimes even include) giving or volunteering.

For nonprofits that rely on donations from individuals, this poses a problem. While it's good that people are passionate and want to get involved with issues they care deeply about, cash, for nonprofit organizations, still matters — and often is the most important factor in an organization's ability to do its work and advance its mission.

What's a nonprofit leader to do? And what can nonprofit organizations do to address this shift in behavior?

Here are three things to keep in mind as you look to activate a new generation of supporters:

1. Make it about the issue. In my previous post, I looked at some of the things nonprofits should be doing to turn one-time donors into loyal and engaged supporters. And one of those things is articulating how a small action by a supporter can connect with other small actions to create bigger impact with respect to an issue or cause.

The same is true when you are looking to cultivate and/or strengthen relationships with your existing supporters. People give and get involved with an issue through an organization, not because of an organization. Think about it: I'm more likely to become involved with Pencils of Promise not because someone told me that PoP was doing great work and its focus is on education but because I’m passionate about quality education for all kids and PoP does great work in that space.

2. Don't just run a campaign, build a movement. It's easy for nonprofit development professional and fundraisers to get hung up in the wash-rinse-repeat campaign cycle. At the start of the year, your fiscal calendar is already blocked out with various appeals, volunteer drives, and fundraising events — so many, in fact, that you barely have to time to think. But how are they connected? What are you doing between campaigns to maintain the engagement level of your supporters and continuously deepen their connection to your issue?

To truly make a difference, you need to activate your supporters and followers at every level of engagement, moving them along a continuum from having a more-than-passing interest in your issue to actually standing up and taking action on behalf of it. Campaigns have a role to play in that, but every campaign (and all your communications) should be designed to deepen an individual's engagement to the point where she feels herself to be an actual member of a movement and is willing to introduce others to the cause.

3. Update your organization's structure. Because of the resource constraints most nonprofits have to deal with, activism and advocacy often end up taking a back seat to core operating functions. If you're going to build a movement predicated on greater levels of supporter engagement, however, you're going to need a different kind of organizational structure.

Which means you should align that structure in ways that engage and support your audience today, rather than next month, next year, or at some happy point in the future. A good place to start is adding a director of advocacy or constituent engagement to your leadership team and giving them a set of responsibilities focused on movement building and donor cultivation, not just fundraising.

In this new era, it's vital that nonprofit leaders change their thinking to more closely align with where and how a rising generation of potential supporters wants to be involved with the issues and causes that matter to them. In other words, if you want to create lasting change, don't focus on your organization; focus on connecting people to your issue through your organization.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann is the president of Achieve, a research and marketing agency for causes, and the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Weekend Link Roundup (November 4-5, 2017)

November 05, 2017

Article-flanagan1-1105Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

Can you hear me now? From Reuters: "The amount of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere grew...in 2016 to a level not seen for millions of years...." 

Giving

Do the wealthy "need" to give?  Do they give to make the world a better place, to give back to the community? Or is their charity motivated by reasons that are far less noble — peer pressure, social status, a version of conspicuous consumption? On the Foundation for Independent Journalism's Wire site, Jacob Burak explores the varied and complex motivations that drive charitable giving.

Heathcare

Open enrollment season for the Affordable Care Act opened November 1 and, this year, runs only through December 15. The Aspen Institute's Natalie Foster explains why, as the nature of work continues to change, the viability and success of the Affordable Care Act is increasingly important.

Here on PhilanTopic, the Campaign for Black Male Achievement's Shawn Dove and Phyllis Hubbard make the important point that people who do this kind of work also need to be sure to take care of themselves.

International Affairs/Development

On the WINGS blog, Debasish Mitter, India country director for the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, notes that while "the nature and extent of development problems... have changed over the years... [p]hilanthropy has been changing and evolving, too," before listing half a dozen ways in which philanthropy is changing its approach to development work.

Journalism/Media

Investigative journalism around the world is under attack by illiberal and authoritarian forces. In a post on the Omidyar Network blog, Nishant Lalwani, director of ON's  Governance & Citizen Engagement initiative, explains why the organization has made a significant investment in Reporters Without Borders. For those interested in learning more about RWF's work, the organization has just announced the launch of its "Forbidden Stories" project.

"There are more than one hundred digital news nonprofits in the United States, and the vast majority are trying to diversify their revenue streams to become less reliant on these major gifts," writes David Westphal on the Columbia Journalism Review website. That said, adds Westphal, "some leaders in this industry are simultaneously coming to believe that philanthropy, particularly individual giving, has room to grow. Perhaps a lot of room."

Leadership

This speech by BoardSource president and CEO Anne Wallestad may be the best speech given by anyone, anywhere, in 2017.

Nonprofits

By 2025, philanthropists will contribute a record $500 billion to $600 billion annually to nonprofits, well above the $373 billion given in 2015. The bad news is the nonprofits will still come up short, by a couple of hundred billion dollars, in the funding they need. Which is why Stanford researchers Bill Meehan and Kim Starkey Jonker wrote Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector.  

Philanthropy

Forbes' contributor Igor Bolsikovski checks in with a nice profile of 41-year-old Gerun Riley, the newly named president of the Eli and Edyth Broad Foundation. 

Public Policy

The list of nonprofit/philanthropic associations and infrastructure groups that have come out against the House Republican tax plan is long and includes the Council on Foundations, Independent Sector, the National Council of Nonprofits, and the National League of Cities.

Social Media

Last but not least, the New York Times' Farhad Manjoo and Kevin Roose asked nine tech experts what they would do to address the malign influence that Facebook increasingly has in our politics and civic discourse. Well worth a read.

That's it for this week. Got something you'd like to share? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

How to Keep Me Scrolling Through What You Are Sharing

November 02, 2017

Hello, my name is Tom and I am a Subscriber. And a Tweeter, a Follower, a Forwarder (FYI!), a Google Searcher, and a DropBox Hoarder. I subscribe to blogs, feeds, e-newsletters, and email updates. My professional title includes the word "knowledge," so I feel compelled to make sure I'm keeping track of the high volume of data, information, reports, and ideas flowing through the nonprofit and foundation worlds (yes, it is a bit of a compulsion…and I'm not even including my favorite travel, shopping, and coupon alerts).

It's a lot, and I confess I don't read all of it. It's a form of meditation, I guess, for me to scroll through emails and Twitter feeds while waiting in line at Aloha Salads. I skim, I save, I forward, I retweet, I copy and save for later reading (later when?). In fact, no one can be expected to keep up, so how does anyone make sense of it all, or even find what we need when we need it? Everyone being #OpenForGood and sharing everything is great, but who's reading it all? And how do we make what we're opening up for good actually good?

Making Knowledge Usable

At some point, we've all battled Drowning in Information-Starving for Knowledge syndrome (from John Naisbitt's Megatrends — though I prefer E.O. Wilson's "starving for wisdom" theory). The information may be out there, but it rarely exists in a form that is easily found, read, understood, and (most importantly) usedFoundation Center and IssueLab have made it easier for people in the sector to know what is being funded, where new ideas are being tested, and what evidence and lessons are available. But to really succeed, nonprofits and foundations will have to upload and share many more of their documents than they do now. And we need to make sure that the information we share is readable, usable, and easy to apply.

1-2-3-reporting-model

DataViz guru Stephanie Evergreen recently taught me a new hashtag: #TLDR – "Too Long, Didn't Read."

Evergreen proposes that every published report be available in three formats — a one-page handout with key messages, a three-page executive summary, and a 25-page report (plus appendices). That way,  "scanners," "skimmers," and "deep divers" can access the information in the form they prefer and in the time that's available to them. Such an approach also requires writing (and formatting) differently for each of these different audiences. (By the way, do you know which one you are?)

From Information to Influence

But it isn't enough to make your reports accessible, searchable, and easily readable in both a short and long form; you also have to include the information people need to make decisions and take action. It means deciding in advance who you hope to inform and influence and what you want them do with that information. If you expect people to read, learn from, and apply the information you're sharing, you need to be clear about your reason for sharing it, and you need to give people the right kind of information.

Too many times I've read reports that include promising findings and interesting lessons, and then I race through all the footnotes and the appendices at the back of the report looking for resources that could point me to the details or implementation guidance. Alas, I usually wind up trying to track down the authors by email or phone.

2005 study of more than one thousand evaluations focused on human services found only twenty-two that shared any analysis of implementation learnings — i.e., the lessons people learned about how best to put the program or services in place. We can't expect other people and organizations to share your knowledge and what you've learned if they cannot access information that helps them use that knowledge and apply it to their own programs and organizations. YES, I want to hear about your lessons and "a-ha" moments, but I also want to see data and an analysis of the common challenges faced by all nonprofits and foundations:

  • How to apply and adapt program and practice models in different contexts
  • How to sustain effective practices
  • How to scale successful efforts to additional people and communities

This means making sure your evaluations and reports include a frank discussion of the challenges related to implementation — challenges that others are likely to face. It also means placing your findings in the context of existing knowledge and learnings and using commonly accepted definitions that make it easier to build on the knowledge created by others. For example, in our recent middle school connectedness initiative, our evaluator, Learning for Action, reviewed the literature first to identify the specific components of and best practices in youth mentoring, thus enabling us to build the evaluation on what had been done in the field by others, report clearly about what we learned about our own initiative, and share that knowledge with the field. 

So please plan ahead and define your knowledge sharing and influence agenda up front, and as you're doing so keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Who do you hope reads your report?
  • What information should it share in order to be useful and used?
  • Review similar studies and reports and determine in advance what additional knowledge you'll need to share, as well as what you plan to document and evaluate.
  • Use common definitions and program model frameworks so that others are able to build on the accumulated knowledge of the field and not have to start from scratch each and every time.
  • Pay attention to the implementation, replication, and management challenges (staffing, training, communication, adaptation) that others are likely to face.
  • Disseminate your evaluation widely via conferences, in journals, through your networks, and in IssueLab's open repository.

And if you do all of the above, I will be happy to read through your report's footnotes and appendices the next time I'm waiting in line for a salad!

Headshot_tom_kellyTom Kelly (@TomEval, TomEval.com) is vice president of knowledge, evaluation and learning at the Hawai‘i Community Foundation and has been learning and evaluating as a practitioner since the beginning of the century.  This post originally appeared as part of Glasspockets' #OpenForGood series, which explores new tools, promising practices, and inspiring examples of foundations that are opening up the knowledge they acquire for the benefit of the larger philanthropic sector and is presented in partnership with the Fund for Shared Insight.

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